The Collegian
Saturday, April 20, 2024

Sarah Petty: Redefining what it means to be a non-traditional student at UR

<p>Sarah Petty stands in front of Cannon Memorial Chapel. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

Sarah Petty stands in front of Cannon Memorial Chapel.                               

On her first day of school, Sarah Petty, 33, stood outside of the Cannon Memorial Chapter just as snow soundlessly began to fall. Petty, a University of Richmond legacy, said thereupon that instant she had experienced true magic.

“My grandfather attended the university and graduated sometime in the '40s,” Petty said. “I also was married at Cannon. Not only was I standing in front of the place where I said ‘I do’ to my husband, but it was as if my grandfather was there with me.

“I knew in that moment that this is exactly where I needed to be. You can’t make that stuff up.”

Petty is a student at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS) and president of the SPCS Student Government Association (SPCS SGA), she said. Since starting at UR in Spring 2017, Petty has redefined what it takes to get one’s education by balancing the multiple challenges that come with being a non-traditional student.

Before attending UR, Petty went to James Madison University for two and a half years as a musical theater major. She is currently obtaining a degree in liberal arts and completing the teacher licensing program, she said.

“I kind of had a freak-out moment three semesters before I was about to graduate so I came home to reevaluate,” Petty said. “And then, I met my husband, life happened and here I am today. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized I could incorporate my love for the theater and my love for the arts into a classroom in an elementary setting.”

Petty is also a mother of three boys -- a  five-year-old and twin three-year-olds. She said that it could be difficult to be a parent of young children and a student at times.

“I did not want to be a hypocrite and tell my kids how important higher education was and not have that degree in hand,” she said. “In order to hit that point with my kids, I needed to set that example.”

Petty said that when her kids were in school, it was the best opportunity to complete her school work, or else she would be acting unfair toward her children.

“Going to school has caused me to really force myself to be there with my kids,” Petty said. “And by 'be there', I mean no distractions when I am with them. Truly present in their lives. It’s important to me that they know that I am a mom first.”

Petty’s work ethic is noted by her fellow classmates, said Sheri Blume, an SPCS student and treasurer of SPCS SGA.

“She is on top of everything,” Blume said. “She is very driven and very organized, for sure. You almost have to be with three boys.”

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Blume said that Petty’s effort was exhibited in her support for SPCS students.

“There was a scholarship event a couple of weeks ago,” Blume said. “The speakers that were chosen were wonderful. But, I felt like there could have been representation from at least one of the students from SPCS who had gotten a scholarship.

“I believe Sarah has actually followed up with the organizer of the event to try and just make people more aware that SPCS is also out there.”

Advocating for SPCS is a quintessential part of Petty’s time at UR. When Petty came to SGA, her passion for SPCS-inclusion flourished, said Cathy Eileen Herweyer, a SPCS professor of liberal arts.

“I love the fact that she recognized that our students are an important part of this community too,” Herweyer said. “Her passion is making sure the rest of the university remembers that SPCS is a part of this school and to make sure that our voice is heard.” 

In a letter to the editor written last December, Petty critiqued a feature written by The Collegian about a geography major, Matthew Franklin, who happens to be a father. In the letter, she called for more awareness for SPCS students.

“Mr. Franklin is doing a great thing,” Petty wrote. “He is teaching his children the value of education and ensuring a successful and happy future for his family. I would like to point out that all of us at SPCS are doing the same thing.”

There is a distinction between SPCS and other schools at UR, Petty said. Petty recalled a time where an SPCS student was in line for a free T-shirt at a UR football game and was told to get out of line because he was non-traditional.

“I hate the phrase traditional vs. nontraditional, that drives me nuts,” Petty said. “We are all Spiders. We all pay tuition. The diplomas are all the same.”

Petty hopes to increase SPCS involvement and inclusion in the school, she said. Although Petty said she would not suggest SPCS students joining Westhampton College women during Ring Dance, perhaps SPCS could create its own tradition as well.

Petty is inspired by her opportunity to be involved at UR and get a second chance at her education, she said. Whether one is returning to school or never goes to school again, everyone is continuing their education in some capacity, she said.

“We are always learning,” Petty said. “I am a lifelong learner. We never arrive. There is always something new to offer to yourself.”

Contact international editor Olivia Diaz at 

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